A Dust Up for The Duke
"Three Faces West" or "The Refugee" as it is also known is a bit of a curiosity. It's a curiosity because it starts with European doctors in particular Dr. Braun and his daughter becoming refugee's in American having escaped their native countries and the constant march of the Third Reich. But this is not a movie about war or the hardship of these refugees as the storyline shifts as the Braun's settle in a North Dakota town where the once fertile land is now barren because of the strong winds which have made it a dust bowl. And so it morphs into this story of farmers and the community having to fight to save their land whilst deciding or not whether it is worth the battle or whether they should trek across country to better land. The symbolism of refugees and the farmers having to make choices is obvious but then that is not the end of it because "Three Faces West" ends up becoming a romance, a love triangle with Leni Braun in the middle of it. It's not bad but neither is it that good and whilst the special effects, mainly of the dust being blow up, are good considering its age there is little else, not even John Wayne's performance which makes it memorable.
Having fled his native Vienna with his daughter Leni (Sigrid Gurie) in order to avoid Hitler and the Third Reich, Dr. Braun (Charles Coburn - Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) becomes a refugee in America where he takes the job of doctor in Ashville Forks, North Dakota. But it is a struggle for both Dr. Braun and his daughter, so different to his luxurious home back in Vienna and with the dust storms it is almost inhabitable. But they stay and Leni finds herself falling for John Phillips (John Wayne - Dark Command) who seems to try and keep things going in the town. But Leni must make a decision as although she has fallen for John she is still betrothed to Eric (Roland Varno) who helped them escape Vienna and feels indebted to him.
So as already mentioned "Three Faces West" starts off on an almost war note as it establishes Three Faces West doctors in America looking to find work having escaped their native countries and Hitler's advance. It's actually quite good as it establishes all of this through what appears to be a radio show where all the doctors speak about themselves, their skills in the hope that someone will hire them. And it is this which leads to John Phillips requesting Dr. Braun and his daughter to head to the town of Ashville Forks North Dakota to become their doctor, a position which no one has stayed in for more than a week due to the terrible dust storms.
Now to be honest the minute you have John Phillips meeting Leni Braun it is rather obvious that they are going to end up falling for each other despite Leni's initial hatred of Ashville and animosity towards him. And to be honest it is one of the most static romantic elements you will ever see with big kisses which spring up from nowhere and tight embraces. But it does usher in the issue of Leni finding herself having to chose between John and Eric the man who helped her and her father escape from Vienna which at least adds a small twist.
But whilst you have this rather obvious romantic element you also have the blight of the farmers in Ashville Forks as they endeavour to try and save their land despite it being completely futile. And so you then have this element of choices where they have to decide whether they should stay or journey 1500 miles across country to start afresh in more fertile pastures. The symbolism between Dr. Braun leaving Vienna and the locals leaving North Dakota for fresh pastures in Oregon is very obvious and if you didn't pick up on it there is a rather unsubtle speech by Dr. Braun which reiterates this point.
The thing is that all of this, everything about "Three Faces West" is what can be called functional. Every part of the story builds to the next part and usually doesn't do so in anything close to a subtle manner but it is also surprisingly entertaining. You know that John and Leni will fall for each other but you can't wait for them to do so, you know that John will have to battle those who disagree with him about heading to Oregon but you want that bit of machismo and whilst it never really serves up a surprise the outcome works even if it is what you could guess was going to happen.
Now whilst it's not the most memorable John Wayne performance it is an enjoyable one as he plays John Phillips. Those elements that became Wayne's trademarks are not really present and what you have got is Wayne playing a genuinely nice young man who wants to get things done for the good. It means that when Phillips and Leni inevitably fall for each other you are kind of happy and to be honest Sigrid Gurie who plays Leni works well with Wayne even if it is the sort of romance which is hard kisses and tight hugs. But the real star of "Three Faces West" is Charles Coburn who brings plenty of quirky amusement as Dr. Braun but not so much that it makes his character a joke. So okay I wouldn't trust Dr. Braun with a stethoscope let alone a scalpel but he ends up the glue which keeps everything going.
What this all boils down to is that "Three Faces West" is entertaining in an old fashioned sort of way and whilst the term subtlety seems to have been forgotten it keeps you interested through having nice characters. But it isn't that memorable and as a John Wayne movie it is one which would come in the lower half of the list.